Why do people give to the church? What motivations and factors make it more likely for people to contribute generously, and what inhibits giving?
Recently I read an article by Clif Christopher in the Lewis Center for Church Leadership Leading Ideas newsletter. Clif’s ministry focuses on stewardship for congregations, and he’s recently completed a book with Abingdon Press, Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate. According to Clif, the reason people give has little to do with tax deductions, receiving credit, guilt or duty.
The three main reasons people give are these: belief in the mission, regard for staff leadership, and fiscal responsibility.
First, people have to see a connection between their giving and the mission of the church. How is this gift changing lives, helping children, serving the poor, strengthening the church, extending ministry? Every talk, sermon, article, request, appeal, and note of appreciation about giving should focus on the purpose and mission of the church. Clif reminds us that people want to make the world a better place. They want to help people. They want to know that their giving makes a difference and really does change lives. How are we doing with clarity of purpose?
Second, people give more generously when they hold the leaders of the organization in high regard – the pastor, the staff, the lay leadership. Confidence in the vision, motivation, and competence of the leadership fosters generosity. Clif reminds us that every non-profit organization includes “fund-raiser” in the job description for the CEO. You can’t lead a non-profit, or a church, without being involved with the finances, knowing the donor base, and feeling comfortable and competent with communicating about money and giving.
Third, people give more generously when they perceive that the congregational leaders deal responsibly, transparently, and competently with fiscal matters. Clif cleverly writes, “The church is the only non-profit I know of that seems to believe that the more you cry that you are sinking, the more people will give to you.” This approach does not work. Sending out a letter that says, “We’ve outspent our money; we’re deep in red ink; we don’t know what we’re going to do next; so please help!” simply does not build reservoirs of trust that foster generosity! Compare that to, “You gave generously last year and we appreciate it; we have used your money well to change lives (tell how!); and if you give more money this year, we’ll be able to have an even bigger impact.”
We’re entering the season of the year when many of our congregations are preparing for Consecration Sundays and other stewardship appeals and commitments. Take time to think about these three reasons people give, and consider how to permeate your church with a true sense of purpose, a clear vision from leadership, and a system that communicates responsibility and trust.
Yours in Christ,
PS: Clif Christopher also has an article on why pastors should know what their members give! Check it out on the Lewis Center for Church Leadership Leading Ideas website!